On Monday, Donald Trump gave a speech in Virginia to the Retired American Warriors PAC. During the Q&A portion, one attendee made the mistake of asking Trump about the epidemic of suicides within the military.
Trump answered, “When you talk about the mental health problems, when people come back from war and combat, they see things that maybe a lot of the folks in this room have seen many times over. And you’re strong and you can handle it, but a lot of people can’t handle it. And they see horror stories, they see events that you couldn’t see in a movie — nobody would believe it.”
The reactions on social media were immediate and furious. People were enraged that Trump was describing soldiers who’d returned from their tours of duty with PTSD as unable to “handle it.” The following tweets are examples of the outraged sentiments Trump stirred:
“Trump either thinks vets that commit suicide can’t hack it like men or genuinely doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
Kate Williams @KateWilliamsme
“Veterans who suffer PTSD, commit suicide are weak says#Trump – what words to all those servicemen & women who make such sacrifices.”
To be fair to Trump, he did argue in favor of giving veterans more and better access to health care. He also suggested that the government should pay for the healthcare of all veterans at any hospital, not just the ones administered by the Veterans’ Affairs.
He still put his foot in it, and he still made a lot of people, especially veterans, angry. His comments demonstrate a harmful attitude towards health issues and an ignorance of the issues that affect veterans.
About five percent of all US troops have been diagnosed with PTSD, and that number is doubled for the veterans who served in Afghanistan and Iraq. Experts believe those numbers are actually low, for they represent only the veterans who sought and got treatment. Since there is a stigma associated with admitting that one has PTSD or any other type of mental illness, many veterans won’t admit they might have it or seek help. They fear being seen as weak, so their condition goes undiagnosed.
Researchers have found that advice to “toughen up” or “man up” only makes things worse. It actually increases cases of depression.
PTSD is not rare, and it does not affect only soldiers. The condition affects millions of Americans. The acronym stands for “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,” and it can affect anybody that has experienced or even just seen a life-threatening or terrifying event. In addition to military combat, other causes of PTSD can include sexual assault, car crashes, or natural disasters.
Trump’s suggestion that soldiers who commit suicide are weak is also an example of “toxic masculinity,” which is the very destructive idea that “real men” are unfeeling, tough and aggressive. Trump has emphasized “toughness” in his campaign and has often commented that the US appears weak to its enemies.
Boys are taught to suppress their emotions from a very early age in order to avoid looking weak. As a result, they are allowed fewer outlets for their emotions than girls are. Men are also less likely to seek help than are women. Thus, while women are more likely to be diagnosed with depression and get treated for it, men are more likely to commit suicide.
Trump takes pride in his refusal to be “politically correct” or even just tactful, but his hurtful comments about veterans with PTSD again show that he is not fit to be President. The Commander-in-Chief needs to be somebody who at least understands the repercussions of sending men and women into battle.